In Michael Porter’s 1996 article “What is Strategy?”, he defined a company’s strategy as differentiating its activities from competitors to create a unique and valuable market position. This article was framed from the perspective of a for-profit company seeking competitive advantage and profit. However, Columbia Business School’s 2012 Social Enterprise Conference is asking how we can re-frame this narrow definition of strategy and build strategies within and across sectors to make social impact and tackle major social and environmental issues.There are several challenges to creating coherent strategies across sectors that will align numerous organizations. First, the desired outcome is not obvious. For-profit companies can rally around maximizing shareholder value as the indisputable goal, but it is difficult for organizations fighting poverty to determine which outcomes could be measured to signal success. Second, it is arguable which activities will most effectively lead to a desired outcome to reduce poverty or improve public health. This continues to be true though organizations are using innovative data approaches to measure their outcomes. Finally, even with a game plan, financial incentives generally don’t exist to propel various organizations to execute on a single strategy. In addition, the sources of funds and the priorities of funders can dictate the substance of many strategies.
September 26, 2012